McNair scores on the gridiron and at the track

Updated: September 15, 2002, 9:41 PM ET
By Kenny Rice | Special to ESPN.com

It was perfect. The years of planning, the hours of meetings, the research to find the best available match of athleticism and potential.

Over a period of days all that work and those dreams came to fruition for Bob McNair.

After waiting six years, the Houston fans who had watched the franchise that used to be theirs go to a Super Bowl representing a different state, filled Reliant Stadium 69,604 strong to see the new Texans. It was made possible courtesy of team owner McNair, who diligently lobbied and labored to bring the NFL back to the city.

It was a dream night and an even better game. On just the third play ever for the Texans, top draft pick David Carr fired a 19-yard touchdown pass to Billy Miller. Houston was on the way to a 19-10 victory over not just any opponent, but the Dallas Cowboys. They had won the first "Texas Super Bowl." It was historical as well. Not since the 1961 Minnesota Vikings beat Chicago 37-13 had an expansion team won its first game.

"It was a special night for Houston fans, for all the staff and team," McNair reflects from his new office at the new stadium that features the first retractable roof in the NFL. "No one will forget it, especially me."

A few days earlier in California, the McNair-owned Congaree won the Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap. He was sidelined most of his 3-year-old season with injuries and after a victory in (appropriately enough) Texas, he had put in a couple of dull efforts. But Congaree responded at Del Mar to duel with Kela through the final furlong and win by a length. A showing strong enough that he could become the eighth Breeders' Cup starter for McNair's Stonerside Stable.

McNair was the co-breeder, with his friend Arthur Hancock, of Fusaichi Pegasus. He raced the champion juvenile filly Chilukki and millionaires Tout Charmant and Touch Gold. But like the Houston Texans, Congaree is McNair's baby, the first Grade 1millionaire bred at Stonerside Farm in Paris, KY.

"It does mean more being a homebred. He's been with me longer, we've watched him grow and progress. We're taking him to Santa Anita for the Oak Tree Mile in October. We think he'll like the turf and if he runs well and proves to be the good competitor at the distance and on the surface, we'll go on to Chicago for the Breeders' Cup Mile."

Assembling a competitive racing stable and putting together a NFL team are not that different to McNair. He introduced John Adger, the Stonerside racing and bloodstock manager to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, as "my director of player personnel -- equine division."

Adger remembers it well. "Bob understands that with any successful company -- be it a NFL franchise or a farm -- there has to be good people working for you and you have to have a deep bench. He had two top linemen out for the game against Dallas but he had put in their place quality back-ups. Management wins games and races."

"John works with me in the same capacity of Charlie Casserly (Senior Vice-President and General Manager of the Texans)," McNair notes. "It's very much like finding good athletes and managing what we have in place. It's quite similar in putting together an organization. You have to have the broodmares and foals like the draft picks. In both cases if you get enough talent something good happens. You can't have too much talent because you must have depth to win."

Expectation is another area that McNair finds pigskin comparisons to horseflesh. Some of it good, some of it not so realistic. "You have a lot of confidence with a player in the pre-season. Then move to the regular season where the speed picks up another notch as does the overall play and it might take him a little while -- you have to give him time. With Chilukki for instance, she was so good so early we got accustomed to her winning and took her for granted that she should and would that it was a terrible disappointment when she didn't.

"Long shots do win and the excitement multiplies. We are happy to have the Houston Texas and that first win against a state rival -- 'America's Team' -- naturally thrilled everyone here. There was so much anticipation but the expectations in winning right off were fairly low. With Congaree he's been injured and shown flashes of being strong again, but it remains to be seen if he can come back and make it to the Breeders' Cup. With athletes, we're dealing with art, not science. We have hopes."

If Congaree should continue from Oak Tree to Arlington and ultimately win the Mile, there is a big difference in how McNair will handle the victory in comparison to q super season from his rookie quarterback Carr.

"Oh yes, that is the big, big difference," he laughs. "None of my horses have an agent so I'll never have to renegotiate with them. Maybe they'll get an extra peppermint.

A fitting reward since McNair is apparently savoring two very special treats of his own: a promising young NFL team and an older Thoroughbred with championship potential.